|The Trascendentalists wear their spiritualism on their collective sleeves. The ensemble’s name and songbook suggest easy fodder for naysayers and skeptics, but it’s in the straightforward emotion and honesty of their music that any tendencies toward listener cynicism are summarily abolished. Abbs accomplishes a mean feat on the opener by playing a bass ostinato and adding tuba flourishes simultaneously, juggling the two instruments like a circus strongman twirling barbells. The teeter-totter harmonic underpinning of the piece is often fleeting and at times disorienting, but Brandt’s tumbling traps play keeps the forward momentum constant. Other track titles speak in similar vagaries, but again it’s the sounds that convey the ensemble’s message of finely tuned collective improvisation in no uncertain terms. “The Spirit…” toys with the vestiges of a groove, almost never overtly stated, but supplied by Abbs and Brandt. Carter and Swell riff expressively above, churning out whorls of sonic energy punctuated by crevices of silence. Abbs takes huge gulps of air, cheeks no doubt flushed by the effort, and channels breath in bursts through the mouthpiece of his tuba, all the while bowing his strings ferocious speed.
Tracks like “The Heart…” and “The Effects of Selfless Giving” trade density for intricate and strangely anthemic interplay. The effect is akin to the calm after the storm and producer Bob Rusch’s comparisons to chamber music in the liners seem particularly appropriate in this context. Clarinet and trombone lines float in ghostly smudges over a sparse rhythmic topography of throbbing bass, splashing cymbals and ominous toms. While quieter on the surface than its brethren, the piece is infused with a thrilling tension just the same. “The Effects of Right Effort” demonstrates the ensemble’s uncanny ability to almost invisibly shape a groove from what sound like disparate strains. One moment the players seem to moving in intensely individual directions, the next all are in sync and traversing the same terrain. It’s the product of careful collective listening and a deep familiarity with one another’s ways and means. This is a band that conjures up mighty torrents of sound on command, but retains clarity of focus even in the midst of its most ecstatic outpourings. Their name might be a bold gamble, but the music is a sure bet.
Recorded: February 4 & 5, 2002, Rossie, NY.